Advice on Reducing Heat Stress in Poultry

Theresia Lavergne  |  10/4/2004 4:25:43 AM

Dealing with summertime heat is a great challenge for people in Louisiana. LSU AgCenter poultry specialist Dr. Theresia Lavergne says high heat and humidity combine to pose severe problems for all types of poultry.

"Under conditions of severe heat stress, poultry will have a reduced growth rate, decreased feed intake, poor feed conversion, decreased egg production, reduced hatchability rate, reduced egg shell quality, reduced egg size and reduced internal egg quality," Lavergne explained. "Additionally, heat stress can cause increased mortality."

All types and ages of poultry are susceptible to heat stress, but older poultry face a bigger risk. As poultry get older, they increase in size as well as insulation (feathering). Lavergne says this makes it harder for them to dissipate heat.

"The most obvious sign of heat stress in poultry is panting," the LSU AgCenter specialist says. "Poultry do not have sweat glands that can cool their skin, so instead they must use evaporation from their throat and respiratory system as a means of cooling themselves."

Lavergne points out that panting takes a lot of energy which, in turn, generates an appreciable amount of body heat for poultry.

"Ultimately, if poultry are not relieved of heat stress, their body temperature can continue to rise and increase the possibility of mortality," she stresses, "Fortunately there are several things you can do to help your home poultry flock handle heat stress."

  • Provide cool, clean, quality drinking water to your poultry. Water must be available at all times and must be in a location that is easily accessible to your poultry. Water will help keep your birds cool.

  • Provide a comfortable environment for your poultry. Always make sure your poultry are in a well-ventilated area in which there is nothing to obstruct the airflow. Placing poultry in a well-ventilated area will help reduce the incidence of heat stress. In addition, a misting/fogging system can be used in a well-ventilated area to help the birds cool themselves.

  • Provide feed during the coolest part of the day. Poultry produce heat during the process of digestion, and when this heat is combined with the significant rise in body temperature that occurs during the late afternoon of a hot day, there is a greater risk of heat stress for poultry.

  • Supplement drinking water with electrolytes. During true heat stress, the electrolyte balance in birds is altered as a result of panting. The addition of electrolytes to the drinking water will help balance the electrolytes in the birds and increase the birds’ water intake. The increased water intake will aid in cooling the birds and will improve the evaporative cooling of the birds. However, you should consult your veterinarian before using any heat stress supplements such as electrolytes.

  • Avoid overcrowding your poultry. You should reduce the number of birds kept in a house or in an area. Birds produce body heat. Thus, by reducing the number of birds in a house you will reduce the amount of body heat produced in the house.

  • Avoid excessive activity during the hottest part of the day. The hot weather is a great stress on the birds, so avoid bothering and disturbing the birds during periods of peak heat.

"The heat of the summertime is unavoidable," Lavergne said. "However, by recognizing the signs of heat stress and taking steps to prevent heat stress in your home poultry flock, you can help keep your poultry comfortable and productive during the summertime."

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